This was an extraordinary meal and I really do think Eleven Madison Park is the perfect place for a big celebration. In fact, there was a proposal the night we were there. In this regard, I think it stands head and shoulders above the other top tier restaurants in NYC (such as Le Bernardin, review coming soon), and even though Per Se is comparable, I feel a greater sense of giddiness going to Eleven Madison Park for the whole experience.
As usual, full review with photos on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...
While the tasting menu served as the foundation of this meal, we also added additional items and did the wine pairing. It was a birthday celebration after all. For comparison purposes, I think it's best to think of it like the extended tasting at Per Se, although with a lower price tag and less overly fancy ingredients. I believe that our experience was a good representation of what you would get with the tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park, but don't be disappointed if you don't get everything that's listed below. I mention this because we were the last table to leave that night, and the penultimate table asked us about the extra courses that seemed to differ in our meals.
The meal begins with black and white cookies. EMP has really focused on celebrating old New York culture with many of their current items, and the black and white cookies are no exception, coming in a box with a card attached describing the origins of the treat.
SAVORY BLACK AND WHITE COOKIES
These are very different from the traditional sweet treats, however, featuring a savory combination of parmesan and black truffle flavors. However, there is only one cookie per diner, as opposed to the constantly refilled container of gougeres they used to have. As delicious as this is, I do miss the gougeres a bit.
TOMATO - TEA PARMESAN LAVASH AND LEMON THYME
The "tea" has been a staple of the canapes for a while, with the main ingredient changing seasonally. This time it was a flavorful yet light tomato tea that was extremely fragrant with just a hint of tartness to open up the taste buds.
MACKEREL WITH HORSERADISH CHIP AND MUSTARD
SCALLOP WITH SCALLOP CHIP AND PICKLED DAIKON AND SESAME
The mackerel was fresh tasting and relatively mild considering the fish. But the thing that stole the show for me was the scallop chip. A crispy chip that tastes exclusively of scallop flavor. I don't know how they did it, but I can easily see it being used in a myriad of ways with other dishes and other cuisines.
CHICKPEA PANISSE WITH YOGURT
The fry-job on this was remarkable. Hot with just a slight crisp on the outside, giving away to a creamy and fluffy chickpea blend. I wondered if their fryer was used for just this item every night.
YOGURT LOLLIPOP WITH CURRY
Yogurt and curry is a good combination, and the cold lollipop provided a great contrast in temperature and texture with the panisse.
TROUT ROE MARINATED WITH DASHI, CANTALOUPE, ZUCCHINI, AND WATERMELON SNOW
This was the first item of the night that I hadn't had before, and it was spectacular. Phenomenal. Just wow. I couldn't stop talking about it. The fruit and vegetable flavors and textures seemed disparate at first, but came together in an amazing way with every pop of the tiny, slightly salty trout roe. While chef Humm is known for playing with textures and temperatures, the mixing of these components by the diner really brought it to another level, reminding me of the bibim at Jungsik.
The next dish was EMP's ode to Jewish appetizing. A glass dome filled with smoke was brought to the table to keep smoking the fish while a chef elaborated on the tradition of Jewish appetizing. Accompanying the smoked sturgeon was lettuce, pickled onion, a perfectly cooked quail egg, and in keeping with the theme, an "everything bagel" crumble. There were also rye crisps as well as house-made pickles. I liked these a lot, as I felt that they weren't overly brined. Their version of cream cheese was a tin of creme fraiche with a generous amount of caviar on top.
Finally, the dome is lifted and the fish is presented, already sliced. The applewood smoke permeates each bite of the tender fish. Everything worked well together, with the fish, caviar "cream cheese", and pickles on rye crisps my favorite combination.
At this point, we were given a tour of the kitchen. We were one of the last diners, so the kitchen was not as busy when we went in. They are busiest between 8pm and 10pm, so those are probably the toughest times to try to accommodate kitchen tours.
One of the great things about a kitchen tour at EMP is the cocktail-inspired, liquid-nitrogen-frozen alcoholic palate cleanser. I really liked this one, with its cherry base, and preferred it to the previous one, which was based on a Jack Rose.
COUSCOUS SMOKED WITH TOMATO, YOGURT, AND OLIVES
Domaine Terrabrune, Bandol, Provence France 2011
This was a wonderful, light starter that once again highlighted the season. Every bite of couscous throughout the dish was steeped in the smoked tomato flavor.
FOIE GRAS MARINATED AND SERVED WITH BLACKBERRIES
Agusti Torello, XII, Penedes, Spain 2010
This may have been new since the description I got with my menu is different from what I actually had. I tend to find that I have problems with foie accompaniments that are too tart, and this was just on the borderline while providing a nice sweet flavor. I did feel that the dish was missing a traditional crispy texture component though.
CLAMBAKE WITH CHORIZO, CORN, AND ZUCCHINI
Southampton, Saison Deluxe, South Hampton, Long Island
This was my first time having the clambake, even though they've served it for quite a while now. It is a beautiful presentation and the aroma itself gave me a wonderful sense of both excitement and comfort. The cornbread with zucchini and chorizo was a good combination of sweet and savory. Clams were featured with clam snow, again showing chef Humm's fondness of different temperatures and textures. But the thing that really blew my mind was this tomato corn broth. Warm and comforting yet exciting and new. Rich yet light. Sweet yet hearty. Just delicious.
WHEY - FRESH CURDS, CARAWAY GNOCCHI, AND SPRING HERBS
Lieu Dit, Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara, California 2011
This was a rather unique dish. It was a purposeful dish, a pasta course that bridged the starters and the proteins with an earthy array of herbs. The slight buttermilk-like tartness from the curds was welcome in cutting the denseness of the gnocchi and herbs. It's a well composed dish, but I didn't get that "wow" feeling. That being said, it could be a matter of expectations going in, since I think if this was served to me at BHSB I'd be singing its praises.
LOBSTER POACHED WITH MEYER LEMON, BURNT LEEK, AND SHELLFISH BISQUE
Navazos-Niepoort, Vino Blanco, Andalucia, Spain 2010
A sizeable portion of beautifully poached lobster. The leeks and crumble provided a nice charred and earthy flavor that went well with the lobster. I actually prefer this to the sweeter pairings (such as carrots) they've done before, and I absolutely love when they use Meyer lemon with lobster.
LAMB ROASTED WITH ARTICHOKES, FREEKEH, AND SPRING ONION
Casanuova delle Cerbaie, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy 2004
So we finally found the other use for their fryer in the fried onion strands, which along with the freekeh (think bulgar wheat) and artichoke, provided good texture contrast to the supremely tender yet meaty lamb loin.
DUCK - ROASTED WITH LAVENDER HONEY, CELERY, AND RHUBARB
Domaine de Courcel, Grand Clos des Epenots, Pommard 1er Cru, Burgundy, France 2007
The signature duck is delicious as always, with crispy skin, concentrated meat flavor, and the perfume of lavender. It feels like it's been fairly recent that they changed the way they present the duck in terms of the slicing, and I think it's because they wanted pieces with more skin in each bite. The final blow is a small dish filled with potato mousseline and duck confit. For the potato, think along the lines of Robuchon's signature potatoes.
EGG CREAM - ORANGE, COCOA NIB, AND SELTZER
CHEESECAKE - GOAT CHEESE, CHAMOMILE
Two more preparations that fit the ode to old school New York theme. Both are delicious but perfectly light preparations of classics. The orange oil used in the egg cream is super aromatic, and the way they froth up the seltzer is perfect for a guy like me who isn't that much into carbonated drinks.
RHUBARB POACHED WITH COCONUT, OREGANO ICE CREAM, AND HONEY
Kiralyudvar, Lapis, 6 Puttonyos, Tokaji Aszu, Hungary 2003
I'm kind of indifferent when it comes to rhubarb, but the thing about this dish was that the oregano ice cream was too strong. The only real miss of the night. This did allow me to focus on the wine, which was the first time I had a Tokaji (Tokay). I liked it very much as it had a great breadth of flavor, and reminded me of a sauterne.
QUARK SOUFFLE WITH APRICOT SORBET
The souffle was expertly made, and while I've never really thought of cheese and apricot, the combination worked well together.
SWEET BLACK AND WHITE COOKIES
Bookends to the meal.
CARAMEL POPCORN BONBONS
These reminded me of a cross between caramel corn and a butterfinger.